Firstly, huge thanks to Pushkin Vertigo and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.
The Decagon House Murders, originally published in 1987, is a Japanese detective fiction novel where a group of seven university students, who are part of the university’s mystery club, decide to go on a trip to an abandoned island where an unsolved quadruple murder took place six months ago. However, they quickly realise that there is a possibility that they might not all make it back to the mainland… They aren’t the only ones to realise the dangers of this trip when a former member of the club receives a letter blaming the club for murdering one of their own, who just so happened to be the daughter of the former owner of the island…
The first thing that struck me about this novel was how self aware it was. After the initial prologue where the reader is let in on the sinister story behind the trip for the students, we’re launched into the students travelling to the island where they are discussing mystery fiction. I liked this unusual opening and it felt fresh for detective fiction – even if the novel was first published in the 80s. This opening was a great way to introduce each of the characters and establish the fact that they feel equipped to be detectives. Although they are university students, it didn’t feel out of place at all for them to be the ‘detectives’ as it were. Ayatsuji does a brilliant job at making this feel very believable.
I really liked all of the characters in the novel, I also loved how they all referred to themselves by their nicknames, all taken from great detective fiction writers. I think Ellery was probably my favourite and I found that a lot of my theories regarding what was going on on the island (as well as what happened six months ago) lined up with his. The dynamic of the group was very well done, I have always wondered what would happen with multiple detectives all working on a case and I think that this did a great job of sort of doing this. Through this group Ayatsuji brilliantly captures very genuine relationships, that just because these students all share the same interest and are in a club together this doesn’t necessarily mean that they are all the best of friends.
The narrative shifts between the events that are occurring on the island as well as what is happening on the mainland with former members of the club. This switch back and forth did an excellent job of sustaining the suspense and kept me hooked. Changing the narrative like this really highlighted how calculated and well planned this entire scheme was. Not only this but, through regularly seeing things that the students didn’t the reader could form even more ideas of what they thought was going on and who was responsible. I went through many different theories and, despite being a chronic overthinker myself, I still didn’t see the end coming and gasped when I came to the end of the book.
It’s always difficult to review detective fiction as there’s just so much I would love to say on how the plot was developed and how things unfolded, especially with the epilogue, however that would spoil what is a truly wonderful book! If you’re a mystery fan or a Japanese fiction fan, this is a must read! Even if you don’t fall into either category this is still one you should seriously consider picking up but be warned – when you do you’ll find it very difficult to put it back down!